Jason Reitman’s latest is another strong, yet lesser, effort from the young director and he gets a great performance out of his lead, Charlize Theron, who makes the most of Diablo Cody’s sharp screenplay.
Theron plays Mavis Gary, a ghost writer for a formerly prominent young adult series that is coming to its unheralded conclusion. Feeling the pressure of her coming deadlines by her ever nagging editor, Mavis decides to head back to her home town and actively tries to win back her ex-boyfriend. The rub is that her ex has a new born baby and a happily married wife, but this doesn’t deter Mavis in the slightest. Her only hope at not making a fool of herself is an old high school class mate she befriends as she needs a drinking buddy to get herself through the visit. What follows is an interesting character study of a personality unlike any I have ever really seen in a picture.
Scripted by Diablo Cody, the film is sharp and has a great sense of humor that skews rather black in most instances. This film isn’t trying to be as unique and quirky as her past features and her characters might be more finely tuned than ever. Mavis in particular is a complicated and damaged soul who has been stuck in arrested development for far longer than one could imagine. The more we get to know Mavis the more damage we get to see and Cody does a great job at slowly peeling back the crazy. Also, anyone adverse to awkward humor might want to steer clear of this film as there are a number of brilliant moments of awkwardness that you will be cringing at for minutes.
Reitman’s films are fairly subdued works, but this feels like the simplest visual effort to date. The cold open is almost shockingly quiet and I expected a bit more flair from him both visually and musically. While the film is well put together and moves along just fine, I think this might be my least favorite entry from Reitman. The direction, beyond the acting, just lacks anything all that interesting and most of the film’s success can be handed over to Cody and Theron. The more straight forward script by Cody doesn’t help give the film a lot of excitement either, but this all could be a choice to try and capture the subdued nature of Mavis’ hometown. Counterintuitive to this is that the film’s opening in Minneapolis is the most subdued portion of the film and I wonder what that has to say about Mavis’ perceived better life.
I keep alluding to Charlize Theron’s performance in the film and that is because it is one of the finer performances of the year. The layers of material she is given by Cody is not wasted in the slightest and Theron gives herself over fully to the part. She isn’t terribly likable as Mavis, but she is never really supposed to be. We can feel sorry for Mavis, but if you find yourself sympathizing with her you might want to see a doctor. The supporting cast is strong from top to bottom with Patrick Wilson getting to mix things up a bit for himself in not having to play the sleazy, cheating type. Patton Oswalt gets to show off his acting talents in a bit more main stream role here and he works wonderfully off Theron. The two’s relationship is quite contrived, but they duo makes it work. The two bounce off each other with ease and Oswalt does a great job of giving his character, Matt, the sadness it deserves. Elizabeth Reaser is also quietly compelling as Wilson’s wife and her calm demeanor makes Mavis’ actions all the more awkward and inexplicable.
In the end, Young Adult is a fine black comedy that is more of a showcase for Cody and Theron then it is for director Jason Reitman. Reitman guides a fine picture here, but I feel like his direction takes a step back from the stellar Up in the Air. Theron turns in one of the best performances of the year as Cody gives her a wonderful character in Mavis to live in. Young Adult isn’t for everyone, but fans of the talent or black humor in general should seek it out. It is a solid film in this very crowded season.
Young Adult is a B+